Talking things through the right way can solve a lot of problems, and it can be key to a lot of happy endings. Yet it’s never as straightforward as it sounds, especially in households where peace is always a delicate balance that hangs in the air.
If you’re a teen struggling with symptoms of a mental health condition, you may know and understand the importance of getting the right kind of help. But teens usually don’t have the means or resources to access that help without the permission (and financial backing) of their parents.
And if your parents are skeptical about the usefulness or effectiveness of therapy, it can put you in a difficult situation. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to talk to them about it, either.
Approaching the Topic of Therapy
Therapy is often the first line of treatment for mental health conditions. It’s not a one-and-done process, but spans multiple sessions over weeks, months, or years, involving introspection, thought exercises, and the use of support methods – from healthy coping skills to the support of your friends and family – to tackle conditions such as anxiety, depression, OCD, and PTSD.
If you’re anxious about approaching the topic with your parents, it may be because you aren’t sure if they’re open to it, or because you know that they aren’t. In this case, preparing yourself is crucial.
1. It Starts with Yourself
Check-in with yourself first. Even in a fractured household, if you believe that your parents are primarily interested in what they feel is best for you, you will need to seriously and convincingly articulate why you feel that therapy is what’s best for you.
Begin by asking yourself what led you to believe that you need therapy. Recount experiences you’ve had in the near past that are emblematic of a mental health problem. Go into detail about how you’ve been feeling – without necessarily including your parents or blaming them – and how you need help.
Talk about why you feel therapy is the next step. Be confident in your answers. Write them down and consider how you want to word your reasoning. Even for conditions where medication can greatly help improve symptoms, such as schizophrenia or ADHD, a therapist may help a teen further explore their thought processes by practicing mindfulness and utilizing exercises to identify and differentiate between normal and disordered thinking.
Yes, therapy can also be a place to truly talk about traumatic experiences and troubles at home. But it may not be a good idea to use that as a selling point for seeking treatment, especially if you feel that your home environment is a major contributor to your mental health issues. Focus on why you feel you need help and why seeking a therapist’s help is a good idea.
2. Pick the Right Time
People are more or less receptive to things they might not necessarily agree with, depending on their stress levels. It’s obviously not a good idea to bring up the idea of getting therapy while your parents are arguing or after a long day’s work.
Consider bringing it up when you feel they’re at their happiest, sometime during the weekend, during a vacation, or when you’re having a nice dinner together.
3. Plan and Practice
You don’t need to follow a strict script, but it’s still a good idea to collect your thoughts and plan your reasoning. Write down your arguments and the pros and cons you anticipate your parents bringing up. Consider what they might say or ask you, and come up with a few ideas for answers beforehand.
Don’t assume your parents will say exactly what you expect them to. They might be much more open to the idea than you had anticipated, and you might not even need to go through the entire conversation you had planned beforehand. But it’s not a bad idea to be prepared anyway.
4. Offer to Involve Them
If your parents are skeptical about the efficacy of therapy, you can suggest family therapy. Even if you have your differences in how you go about mental health, your parents will ultimately want the best for you, and including them in the process might help persuade them to give it a try alongside you.
The Stigma of Mental Health Problems
The stigma of a mental health condition can dissuade teens from getting the help they need to feel better – but it can also dissuade parents from getting teens the help they need. This stigma comes from three different angles: the public, institutions, and one’s own thoughts.
Public stigma is what others think of you. Mental health conditions like anxiety can amplify the already prevalent teen issue of peer perception. Thankfully, mental health advocacy and awareness means most teens are aware of the prevalence of these conditions and the importance of treatment and therapy.
Because conditions like anxiety and depression are so common, it’s no longer socially unacceptable for many teens to openly discuss their therapy. But that differs from group to group. There are still many who might use a diagnosis as ammunition to victimize someone – and there is still a lot of prejudice in the public around mental health patients. Your parents might be worried about what a diagnosis can mean for you – but that stifling stigma can be even worse.
Self-stigma is just as powerful. Teens with anxiety, for example, aren’t just worried about what others think, they’re also unlikely to feel like they deserve treatment. They blame themselves for every failure and double down on self-loathing when things don’t go right. Victories are underplayed, and mistakes are highlighted. Understanding that you need help is a massive step towards finding a way to grapple with your diagnosis and live a fulfilling life.
Institutional stigma is dangerous because it severely penalizes progress in addressing mental health.
For example, there may be legal stigma against people with a mental health diagnosis, such as parents with anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions fighting for custody. There is institutionalized prejudice against mental health patients in the way they may be treated by police. People with anxiety disorders will have a harder time getting treatment for other conditions, as many symptoms might be blamed on their anxiety. They may be less likely to receive proper care than patients with physical conditions.
Negative media representations of people with mental health problems can exacerbate prejudices in the public and magnify self-stigma, delaying treatment.
All of these different forms of discrimination and prejudice can affect teens as well as adults. It makes it harder to come forward with anxious thoughts and seek proper help. Teens struggling with a mental health condition need reassurance that they’re valued, that they deserve proper help, and that they are much more than their struggles or failures.
The Importance of Treatment
Yet despite the stigma, the effects of an undiagnosed or untreated mental health condition are far more dangerous.
Depressive disorders can last years and lead to suicidal ideation and worse. Eating disorders and body dysmorphia share some of the highest mortality rates among mental health conditions. Untreated anxiety disorders can lock a person out of their dream profession or field of study because they have no healthy way of coping with the stress.
These are debilitating illnesses that carry social and physical consequences, and seeking help for them during adolescence can empower teens to adopt healthy coping skills early on, combat symptoms with effective, low-risk medication and therapy, and find a support system that allows them to power through and reach for the stars despite their diagnosis.